Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ayam Masak Merah (Spicy Red Chili & Tomato Ketchup Chicken)

It is awfully hard not to love spicy food when we are presented with an array of such delicious dishes thanks to our rich selection of culinary heritage here. Malay food is one of my favorites, especially the spicy, aromatic ones of course! It was written that many of the spices and ingredients used in most traditional Malay cooking were introduced by the Indians and Arabs, like chili, pepper, cardamom, star anise etc. Meanwhile, influences using ingredients for flavor and aroma such as galangal, lemongrass and herbs are known to originate from our native home soil and our neighbors in the south-east asian region.


I remember my first childhood encounter with spicy Malay food got me scurried home desperate for water. I was about 6 or 7 years old when I got invited to Alif's birthday party. Alif was I think a year younger than me. His family lived next door to us and his grandfather was our landlord. It was Alif's Mom's (really!!!) spicy fried beehoon (rice vermicelli) that got my palate all fired up! Too shy to ask for more water, I dashed down from the stairs of Alif's typical wooden-stilted Malay house straight into my Mom's kitchen looking for water. After that, I figured that since I have already given Alif his birthday gift and that everything else I imagined was spicy (which probably was not but like they say, once bitten twice shy), I didn't return to the party. His Mom was sweet enough to check with my Mom the next day why did I leave the party so early before the games started. My Mom, not wanting to be rude about our neighbor's rather kid-unfriendly food, simply told her that I had a sudden tummy ache!

Of course, the situation now is a far cry from the incident at Alif's party. I love my food spicy! Ayam masak merah is one of my favorite Malay dishes. It is fried chicken pieces coated in a rich and spicy sauce balanced with just a hint of sweetness, and laced with the aroma of those wonderful spices. Level of spiciness can easily be adjusted by adding or reducing the amount of dried chilies used in the recipe. The tomato ketchup will neutralize down a bit the level of spiciness. This dish is delicious served with plain or flavored rice.


Half of a chicken, cut into large pieces
1 tbsp turmeric powder
2 knots of screwpine (pandan) leaves for aroma
2 tomatoes, quartered
1 large onion, ringed
1 cup green peas (optional)
1 inch piece galangal, roughly crushed
1 inch-long piece cinnamon stick
1 star anise
a few cloves
a few cardamom pods
3/4 cup tomato ketchup
1 cup thick coconut milk
half tbsp sugar
salt to taste
enough cooking oil

Pound/blend together
15 dried chilies (soak in boiling water for 20 minutes, discard seeds and water)
3-4 cloves garlic
10 shallots
3 cm piece ginger
1 stalk lemongrass (the white part or bottom 5 cm)


1. Rub the chicken pieces with salt and turmeric powder and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
2. Heat oil in a deep pan, fry the chicken pieces together with a knotted screwpine leaf until the chicken pieces are cooked and browned. Drain and set aside.
3. Heat half cup oil in a wok or pot. Put in all the blended spices, a knotted screwpine leaf, galangal, cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves and cardamom pods and fry for about 10 minutes or until it is fragrant.
4. Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Then, add in the tomato ketchup, sugar and salt to taste.
5. Add in the fried chicken pieces, green peas, tomatoes and onion. Simmer for a further 5 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces to coat well with the sauce. Serve with rice.

Enjoy cooking!


  1. That's one delicious curry dish you go there,...you just reminded me of a long lost dish.

  2. That is one of my favorite ayam dishes. Love it with nasi tomato or nasi minyak. Yum!

  3. I love love love this dish! That combination of textures from the fried chicken, and then the sweet spicy savoury aromatic sauce!

  4. Syiok-nya! Sedap eaten with nasi minyak! Mesti tambah nasi!

  5. I must try this. I love spicy food too. I shall bookmark this and try it on one of my weekends. That was a cute story - maybe just saying that the meehoon was too spicy for a kid would make your next door makcik understand that not all kids take fiery food. Penang people tend to take a lot of intense flavoured foods - we like really spicy sambals and stuff and of course, since we're so near to Thailand, we love tomyum and all manner of pedas stuff.

    1. hi Maya, happy trying & hope you'll enjoy it :).

  6. What a truly appetizing & dazzling chicken dish! I must make this lovely appetizing dish soon! :)


  7. Hello Nyonya, Wow! ini makan lupa nama mak....as well nama pun rosak, as tiga pinggan nasi guarantee lichin.
    If invited for dinner your home, I will not eat lunch, reserve space in my tum tum...ha ha ha.
    Your this ayam masak merah I have not eaten, gua pun suda lupa bila. Must be in the late '70s.
    I would love be your neighbour.....
    Have a nice day, Nyonya. Happy cooking.

  8. hi nyonya
    yessss....very2 true...looks so tempting!!!!

  9. mmmm..mmm...kalu makan with tangan, tentu jilat jari sampe bersih..hehehee..best nya..wonder where is Alif now?? hmm..

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